Impressionism: Up Close

Last week we did our first Picture Study. Our approach to the study of art comes from the ideas of Charlotte Mason:

As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as else-where we shut out the middleman.

- Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosphy of Education, Homeschooling Series Vol. 6

We study one artist each semester. Each week we read a little bit about the artist's life and technique, then a quality print of one of the artist's pieces is put before the boys. They are given four to six minutes to study the work, to really look at it, and to take it all in. Then the piece is turned over and they are asked to "tell back" what they saw. I also provide a magnifying glass for them to use, if they would like to take a closer look at some particular detail in the picture.

The painting we looked at last week was done in the impressionistic style, where the artist uses dabs or small strokes of unblended color that, when looked at as a whole, create the visual effects of light and shadow and surprising detail.

Last week was Michael's first experience with Picture Study. I turned the picture over and told them to begin their observation. Michael immediately reached for the magnifying glass and wouldn't put it down. He was scanning all over the painting, looking only through the lens of the magnifying glass. At one point King asked to use it. Michael reluctantly gave it up, but he kept an eye on it the whole time, not once looking back at the painting until he had the magnifying glass back in his hand.

I must add that the original of the work we were looking at was only about six by nine inches, but the print we had was blown up to about five times that size. Needless to say, this only served to further magnify(!) the problem.

 What's that orange splotch?

I decided that I needed to take away the magnifying glass completely. After some protesting, Michael again reluctantly gave it up. But he was now completely obsessed with it and could hardly glance down at the painting without asking for the magnifying glass back.

Mom, I NEED it! I HAVE to SEE something!

Finally, exasperated by how quickly this exercise had gone so wrong, I whispered sternly,

Michael! I'm telling you: you better be able to tell me every single thing that is in this painting by the time you are done!

Charlotte Mason may have rolled over in her grave at that moment, but Michael straightened up and really started looking at the picture for the first time. He didn't ask for the magnifying glass again and we ended up having a lovely discussion about what they both saw in the painting.